A Columbia County Judge is considering evidence on whether a young man accused of killing Rainier’s Police Chief is competent to stand trial. Daniel Butts has undergone two observation periods at the Oregon State Hospital since his arrest two years ago.
Dr. Simrat Sethi was the State Hospital psychiatrist in charge of Butts’ evaluation during his most recent stay. He was one of four psychiatrists who’ve testified. Sethi said, he tried to examine and interview Butts, who was uncooperative. Sethi said he saw plenty of unusual behavior, but found insufficient evidence to define Butts as having a serious mental illneess. “It creates this situation,” Sethi explained. “He is showing certain behaviors. But we are not seeing symptoms consistent with a major mental health diagnosis. It is possible he has a major mental health diagnosis? Yes it’s possible. I cannot diagnose a major mental health disorder without seeing symptoms.”
Butts sat slumped over, head on the table, fingers in his ears for most of the three days of the hearing. He he did raise his head once to demand his attorney do something to get a stun belt removed, and to ask for a cheeseburger and a pizza.
According to court testimony, Daniel Butts has two half brothers who’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and his mother has suffered from various mental illnesses over the years. Psychiatrists called by the defense noted Butts’ friends reported he showed bizarre, withdrawn behavior in the weeks before the confrontation that led to Painter’s shooting death. Given the family history, and accounts of Butts’ behavior before and after the incident, Dr. Richard Adler said he thinks Butts is clearly schizophrenic. He felt state hospital psychiatrists were placing emphasis on the wrong information.
“There’s a phrase that one swallow does not a summer make,” Adler said. “I can do a jump shot but I’m not ready to play basketball. He might have a behavior on occasion, but that does not reflect the full array of competencies you need to be a defendant in a death penalty matter.”
What’s at issue is not the defendant’s condition the day of the shooting, but his current state of mind.
Over the past two years, Butts’ hair has grown shaggy. Testimony showed his weight has yo-yo-ed up and down as he refused food.
The two years since Ralph Painter’s death have also taken a toll on the slain Chief’s friends and family.
Rainier is a town where log trucks still roar down the streets every few minutes, in the shadow of hulking ships from the Port of Longview. Painter was a fixture around town for so many years, almost everyone seems to have a story about him.
Mike Avent is a business owner who served with Painter when both were councilmen. He said Painter was both a reliable friend, and a reliable customer. “We have a pizza parlor here in town. The girls all knew him, late at night, if they were scared or needed assistance at night,” Avent said, “he’d always be here for them. We actually named a pizza after him.”
Avent says he sees two kinds of people in the community: takers, and givers. He called Painter someone who never stopped giving.
Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson says it’s been important to him the justice system treat this case with the same diligence as any other - despite the deep loss he feels. “Ralph Painter had a common sense approach to law enforcement. He didn’t consider himself above them. He just saw himself as someone who was there to carry out his function as a public servant.”
That doesn’t mean Dickerson is comfortable with the pace of the case.
“No,” Dickerson says quietly. “I wish we could have progressed faster than this.”
Business owner Mike Avent says he thinks Ralph Painter would have been patient with the legal process. “I never saw him fly off the handle and get angry. He was always protective of people’s rights. “
But Avent has trouble mustering that kind of patience.
“It would be nice to put closure behind it. I disengage with the process. I feel like there’s nothing I can do so I disengage with it to some degree.”
Ralph Painter left behind a wife and children. His youngest child is eight years old.
Judge Ted Grove says he’ll take the arguments under advisement, and will rule on Daniel Butts’ competency next week. Judge Grove might choose to rule Butts is competent, and move the case forward to trial. If he’s not convinced of Butts’ competency, he might send the defendant to the State Hospital for treatment. Or he might choose other options.